This is not a Castle

This post takes as inspiration some of the drawings that Jean Baptiste Joly sent me – from September 2016 to December 2016 – after my six months as an artist-in-residence at Akademie Schloss Solitude.

Seeing the drawings arriving to my Facebook page once per week like a treat, made me feel like one of Pavlov’s dogs, waiting for the next candy. Simultaneously, it also raised many questions, which I will address in upcoming posts. One of them is »what happens to the mind when we constrain it to the rhythm of producing a new work every week?« When does it start and stop creating? What is the dilettante capacity of the brain? To what extent can it stretch out its capacities? And what is the trajectory that it follows – from the most realistic to a more minimalistic tone? Does the brain cheat to get a result?

Observing the diverse array of drawings all together also made me realize that if I were to focus on just one element, I would get the same view as if I were to analyze all of them – as the trajectory of the mind is the same. Thus, I chose the castle, as it is the most repeated motif, and it is also the one that informs the experience of being at Solitude. It’s impossible to run away from it!

Finally, the castle also reminded me of the subject of drawing/memory, and the question of »what is memory – what do we decide to store and to forget and how do we rewrite ourselves?«

According to the French philosopher Henri Bergson, memory is represented by an image-reminiscence. Thus, it is perhaps true that the castle is not a castle, but a memory of the castle!

When it comes to memory, we all know that drawing is one of the most essential forms of remembering something. Since primary school that we’ve known the trick. Indeed, drawing letters helps us to memorize them and to understand the function of language. Moreover, drawing a symbol provides the brain with an image that is better registered than an abstract idea.

In this context, it is appropriate to state that drawing plays an important role in the process of assimilating information – most people draw maps, faces or shopping lists.

That is what I would call everyday memory, following the typology of Bergson, who distinguished between automatic and pure memory in his book Matter and Memory.

According to Bergson, we have two types of memory – automatic and pure. Automatic memory deals with repetition and causality. I use memory to perform actions in present time: I recall information that allows me to walk, open my email account, and cycle to work. Every time I act in the present, I use the memory encoded in the body. I don’t have to think, it is an automatic action. But, the most valuable memories are of the type »pure« – also known as »contemplative«. That is to say, when we recall a past event that we know that cannot be repeated. For instance, I remember my schools days during my childhood. But, as I’m not able to go back in time, I can only have these school days as (fond) memories. These memories are embodied with a spiritual dimension, as they are my chosen memories. They are my castles!

As Bergson points out »our present is the materiality of life; it is unique for each moment of duration. This is to say that my present consists in the consciousness that I have of my body.« [1] , pp. 76) On the contrary, »pure memory, in which each unique moment of the past survives, is essentially detached from life,« so that »pure memory is a spiritual manifestation. With [pure] memory, we are in very truth in the domain of the spirit.« [2]

The spiritual dimension of memory is very important in the philosophy of Bergson, and the main force of Matter and Memory. For Bergson, a separation between body and spirit, as stated by René Descartes, is not the case. According to Cartesian philosophy the brain and spirit are separated spheres, with the mind locked in the brain. Bergson separates mental from cerebral, and perceives brain and body as an interlocking system, stating:

The first is that in psychological analysis we must never forget the utilitarian character of our mental functions, which are essentially turned towards action. The second is that the habits formed in action find their way up to the sphere of speculation, where they create fictitious problems, and that metaphysics must begin by dispersing this artificial obscurity.

Only recent studies of neuroscience – as well as the works of thinkers such as Andy Clarke and David Chambers – have validated Bergson’s achievement. Today, we are likely to perceive that the mind is composed of both the brain and the body and, eventually, the environment – as we have already explained in the article Extended Mind.

In this context, the drawings of Jean Baptiste Joly acquire a special value, as they are memories of a contemplated past, a past that it is still happening in the present, but already fading. This perception can only happen when we are placed in a context in which we experience repetition and novelty in equal measures. Like how every time a new fellow arrives to the castle it is the same type of person/experience: ›the fellow‹, but yet ›a new fellow‹. New memories overlap old ones. Like trying to fit a new film onto an old screen – it works but there are two black stripes coming out of the sides of the screen. Thus, we need to choose what to do, or perhaps to integrate the new film/old screen into one experience of a new type: ›old-new‹.

  1. Jump Up Bergson Henri, Matter and Memory, (USA,, 2010
  2. Jump Up idem pp. 129